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The BBC's Steve Rosenberg
"An embarrassment for the president"
 real 28k

Monday, 16 October, 2000, 10:29 GMT 11:29 UK
Belarus vote condemned
People waiting to vote
Many voters ignored the opposition boycott
European observers say Sunday's parliamentary elections in Belarus failed to meet international standards for a democratic poll.

The Belarus mission of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) said the minimum requirements for holding free and fair elections had not been met.


The minimum requirements were not met for the holding of free, fair, equal, accountable and open elections

OSCE

Earlier, the authorities in Belarus said enough people voted to validate the poll and ensure a new parliament.

Supporters of hardline President Alexander Lukashenko look set for victory in the elections to the lower house.

Many opposition candidates were barred from the race on technicalities.

Turnout controversy

The central electoral commission said overall turnout was more than 60%. The result was valid in all but 14 constituencies, where new polling will take place, it said.

Alexander Lukashenko voting
President Lukashenko has muzzled the opposition

But the opposition, who had called for an election boycott, accused officials of falsifying the results. They believe that in the capital, Minsk, too few people voted to make the result legal.

The OSCE said that "the minimum requirements were not met for the holding of free, fair, equal, accountable and open elections".

The OSCE sent a small team of technical observers to Belarus, instead of a full-scale monitoring team, because of doubts about the election's fairness before the vote.

The opposition called a boycott in protest at what it said was restricted access to the media, a biased election law, political prosecutions of opposition leaders and parliament's lack of real power.

The boycott was ignored in rural areas, where the government is popular, but turnout in the cities was low.

West shuns Lukashenko

The West has shunned Mr Lukashenko since he boosted his powers, extended his term in office and dissolved the previous parliament - dominated by opposition deputies - in a 1996 referendum.

In Sunday's election, 565 candidates were standing for 110 seats in the lower house. Pro-reform parties say the chamber is already packed with Mr Lukashenko's supporters.

Protester burns a leaflet urging Belarusians to vote
Opposition supporters said the election was a farce

The US has already said it will not recognise the results, as it says the parliament is illegitimate.

President Lukashenko dismissed criticism of the vote when casting his ballot in the capital, Minsk.

"If the West and international observers do not recognise the elections, it will have a negative effect on the image of the democratic West and will show its double standards."

Divided opposition

Some members of the divided opposition criticised other government opponents for not taking part in the election.

"The opposition has made a colossal mistake," Alexander Feduta, an independent journalist and candidate, told Russia's NTV television. "When a sportsman misses two seasons he can't count on victory in the Olympics."

On Saturday more than 3,000 protesters attended a pro-boycott rally in Minsk, spurred on by the recent ousting of Slobodan Milosevic as Yugoslav president.

They hope President Lukashenko will lose the presidential elections expected next summer.

But he has broad support in the former Soviet republic of 10 million people, despite a struggling economy and high inflation.

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See also:

19 Jun 98 | Europe
Alexander Lukashenko: a profile
15 Sep 00 | Europe
Belarus election campaign begins
18 Jan 99 | Europe
EU ambassadors back to Belarus
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